Enough is Enough – This Tipping Culture Has To Stop

Earlier in the week the Travel Update Blog pointed out the AP story “Envelopes in Marriott Hotels Invite Tips for Maids”.

This photo provided by A Woman’s Nation shows an envelope that Marriott will be placing in 160,000 hotel rooms in the U.S. and Canada beginning this week to encourage guests to leave a tip for the person who cleans the room. The envelopes bear the name of the room attendant (Photo: Associated Press)

The story says:

“Envelopes will be placed in 160,000 rooms in the U.S. and Canada. Some 750 to 1,000 hotels will participate from Marriott brands like Courtyard, Residence Inn, J.W. Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and Renaissance hotels.

The name of the person who cleans the room will be written on the envelope along with a message: “Our caring room attendants enjoyed making your stay warm and comfortable. Please feel free to leave a gratuity to express your appreciation for their efforts.

The story goes on to say that, when asked how much guests should be leaving in the envelope, Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson indicated $1 to $5 per night, depending on room rate, with more for a high-priced suite.

Let me start by saying two things:

1) There is no doubt that many occupations in the US (housekeeping amongst them) are incredibly poorly paid, and that tips are the best chance that people in those professions have to make a liveable wage.

2) I applaud A Woman’s Nation for doing what it can to raise awareness of the poor wages earned by people in housekeeping positions at hotels around the country.

My issue in all this is with Marriott (and with the hospitality industry as a whole).

Marriott either believes that its housekeeping staff are remunerated adequately or not. There’s no third option. If it believes they receive fair pay, then why the need for the envelopes? Presumably, if they’re earning a fair wage, then any tip would only be for service above and beyond what could be considered normal – and how are we meant to judge that, when we rarely get to see what they do (outside of the obvious)?

If, on the other hand, Marriott believes that their housekeeping staff are not adequately paid (which is the reality here) then why are they abdicating responsibility for this issue to their guests? Why don’t they do something about it themselves?

I would be far happier paying a slightly higher room rate (if it meant the staff at the resort or hotel were getting the full benefit) rather than being faced with a tip jar in my room every time I check into a Marriott hotel or resort. The envelope left in the room is no different from Marriott coming out with a statement along the lines of “We don’t pay our housekeeping staff an adequate, liveable wage – please make up the difference.

The problem is that we have, for too long, allowed businesses in the hospitality industry to underpay their employees and then have their wages subsidised by the consumer with tips. Do you remember when 10% was the accepted standard for a tip? It really wasn’t that long ago and yet, earlier this year, a Business Insider article printed a survey (by Wait But Why) showing what people in the service industry expected and what percentage of their salary tips constituted – and it’s incredible!

My favourite statistics in that table come from the waiters where we learn that tips make up 85-100% of their salary and “Even if service sucks, never go below 15%”.

Let me just spell that out: We, the consumers, are being left in a position whereby if we don’t tip, the serving staff don’t have a wage. And we are expected to tip no matter how terrible the service is! How did we get to this point?

It’s time we took a stand against the tipping culture that’s been forced upon us by businesses which want more for themselves at the expense of their workforce. Developed countries around the world do just fine without tips making up the vast bulk of workers’ wages (in some countries it’s even considered rude to tip) so why are we still expected to tip so much? Why are we subsidising wages and being guilted into it at the same time?

It’s time we went back to tipping for service and not because we have to. I’m very happy that Marriott’s “caring room attendants enjoyed making [my] stay warm and comfortable” and, as that is more likely to make me visit a Marriott property again in the future, perhaps Marriott should be the one to “express [their] appreciation for their efforts” rather than expecting me to.

Message to Marriott: I paid you well for my room now pay your staff well for their work.